Monday, February 09, 2004

Taking Comments

A British weblog I read (linked at the right), Harry's Place, today announced a new policy on comments:
I think there have been some excellent debates here at times and some high standard contributions. Generally I think that thecomments box helps to create some interesting discussion and some sort of sense of a community of readers.

But as the number of readers and commenters has risen over the past months some problems have arisen. A few months ago 20 comments on a post was the highest we had managed - that was managable and fine. Now we have had several posts which have brought over 100 responses - that is tougher to deal with.

I simply don't have the time to monitor all the comments, to delete offensive posts and warn or ban the offenders to stop this site heading in an unpleasant direction. I'd rather spend my webtime reading other blogs and writing for this one than policing comments boxes. After all this isn’t a message board but a weblog.
Personally, I take a laissez-faire view of comments on weblogs. The weblog posts are the "official" content, and the comments section belongs to the "peanut gallery". For popular websites, the problems associated with permitting comments tend to be that the comments focus on the author instead of the site, that the volume of comments is so overwhelming as to make that feature meaningless, or that people "feed the trolls" and subvert the discussions.

I've been involved in online "public discussion forums" since the 1980's. I have seen how an influx of low-quality participants can subvert an online community. I have seen how a cliquish community can react with incredible hostility to the challenge of their ideas, no matter how reasonable the challenge. I have seen people of all ages develop reputations for their ability to cut through the nonsense and make incisive arguments.

I think blogging has an advantage over a static community, in that a local "troll" or person inclined toward consistently negative or disruptive comments is likely to get bored after a while and move on. Certainly there are some persistent trolls on sites like TalkLeft (and, as much as I hate to say anything that would encourage trolling behavior, about one post in ten one of the resident trolls makes a valid point). Certainly there are people who take advantage of the popularity of a site like Eschaton and spam links into discussions. But unlike a traditional online community where the negative participant can initiate discussion, unless they get a tangible reward from their conduct, most negative participants seemingly eventually get bored and toddle off to a better playground.

Another comment from Harry's Place:
The major problem is primarily with people adding comments to old posts from days or weeks ago. I don't spot these but they remain on the site and there have been a few recently that have been close to the mark in terms of decency. When these comments stay on the site they also appear on google and they don't reflect well on the site or the readers. I should point out that it is not longstanding or regular commenters who have been the problem.
I would venture that people are finding the old discussions through Google, and are showing up to add their thoughts. I think most readers are capable of distinguishing between a site's official stance and the wacky thoughts of such posters; but the easiest thing to do, if that is a persistent problem, would be to close any given comments thread (either manually or automagically) after a few days.

In any event, I like comments. So post some:


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